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5 Common Strength Training Mistakes Triathletes Make (and How to Fix Them)

By Saul Guznay | Oct. 02, 2017, 2:54 p.m. (ET)

strength training

Triathletes are highly motivated people; often training before the sun rises. They want the best bang for their buck when they shop for gear and they read articles to train smarter. However, many talented age-groupers still make novice mistakes regarding strength training. It’s possible they aren’t well-versed in the weight room and that’s OK. Rest assured, after reading this article you’ll have a better understanding how the iron can help your mettle on race day!

Mistake No. 1: Assuming you’ll get Yuge

As a personal trainer, I hear men and women say, “I just don’t want to get big like Arnold” when I suggest hitting the weights. That’s no different than telling a friend not to run because they might get “too fast like Bolt.” It’s silly because we all know people that rack up high weekly mileage and never get any faster. The same principles apply to progress made in the gym. Like running, it’s merely a tool to help get to your goal, but it takes time, discipline and effort. The strength program required to become Mr. Olympia is quite different than a program used to develop hill-climbing power on the bike. A strong muscle isn’t always the biggest muscle, so for starters let’s get this mindset out of the way.

Mistake No. 2: Not Keeping a Log

Triathletes keep tabs of their training miles, their nutrition plan, their weight and even how many days left before race day. Some even know every split from last week’s 20 miler. But often, strength work is either not logged and thus forgotten, or simply done when they can’t s/b/r due to bad weather. Consistency and frequency is needed when making the necessary strength adaptations. Simple pencil and paper is perfect if you’re not a pro with Google Sheets. Use any method to keep track as long as you can refer back to see what exercises you did, weight lifted, rest periods and small notes about how you felt or if you used a different machine. Keeping a log also can prevent injuries when you plan ahead for easier weeks of training.

Mistake No. 3: Not Updating Your Routine

You can’t expect to get faster on the bike by doing the same route week in and week out, correct? The same applies to the weight room because variety helps you improve while keeping you interested. Don’t be that person doing the same routine you did in college and anticipate it to work the same way. Unless you’re younger than 28, we’re all fighting Father Time and it takes different approaches to maintain, let alone improve. Doing chest and biceps and abs for three sets of 10 is so cliché and probably not what a triathlete needs. A good routine should consider your lifestyle, consistently challenge you, and have rest weeks to avoid overtraining. Asking a fitness professional can give you a fresh perspective if you only know a handful of exercises or training methods.

Mistake No. 4: Using Soreness/Pain as an Indicator of Success

Hard work is noteworthy, but seeking a workout that leaves you walking home like a newborn deer only benefits your ego and Instagram, not your triathlon times. Each year, people join HIIT classes and CrossFit with hopes of getting leaner through extreme or brutal workouts that essentially test your willingness to suffer. Ask yourself, “How does this fit into my training week?” If you can find three good reasons why, then by all means go! Remember why you’re there and respect your limitations. Deep soreness for five days after any workout not only cuts into training, but also means that you’ve exceeded your level of fitness, and you are perhaps making the last mistake on the list.

Mistake No. 5: Not Using Correct Form

Form over everything is true for all aspects of triathlon. Yet, if you’ve ever spectated a race, you’ve seen some of the best and worst technique. So technically, anyone can finish with less than ideal form. However, I presume you’re reading because you want to improve! Incorrect form when weight training is not only ineffective, but it also can injure you. You can start by using your smartphone and a cheap tripod to record yourself on exercises such as the squat, deadlift, power clean, even push-ups. Then, compare it to instructional videos found on YouTube or ask a fitness trainer for tips to improve it. Remember, it’s best to do 10 perfect reps versus 1,000 careless ones. Your body will thank you later.

Bonus: Doing What Others Are Doing

Drawing inspiration from others can help when you need a boost, but sometimes it’s best to “run your race.” Finding sensible training ideas are tougher than ever when people post every workout, meal eaten and selfie on social media. It also might be confusing when you find out people in your tri group are doing way more than you or much less. Don’t assume everything you see and hear is exactly what others are up to. On social media, most often it’s done for likes, followers, sponsors or simply to brag. When asking someone in your group, they might embellish or not tell the full story to either psyche you out or not want to admit they’re frustrated with training simply because it amazes others. Consult with others who have your best interest at heart. They’ll give you objective, solid advice while reminding you of your individual needs and not compare to others.

Once you retool your thinking and correct these mistakes, you’ll find more success in your athletic career. Godspeed and feel free to comment below and I’ll help answer your questions.

Saul Guznay, M.S., is a New Jersey-based strength coach who earned an IRONMAN Bronze AWA status (2016) and still competes in Olympic-distance triathlon. His experience working with general, athletic and youth populations in the fitness industry has helped him become a sought-after coach. At Exercise Lab Multisport, there are many programs that can help you perform your best. More info can be found at elmultisport.com.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.